Katajamäki in Strong Summer Form
Finnish Rally Championship in Kouvola
The second summer rally of the season proved to be quite demanding from the get-go. The rally started with the longest special stage, where the fastest time was set by Kristian Sohlberg, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer.
For the three strong Ford Focus drivers the opening stage was painful. Juuso Pykälistö, the current Championship leader, driving with number one on his car, and Jouni Ampuja, who started second, suffered from technical problems. In addition to that both men experienced some difficulties with grip due to lose gravel. Worst off of the Ford drivers was Jarmo Mikkonen, who lost five minutes with a puncture.
Sohlberg continued in the lead of Group A and the overall competition after SS 2. His lead over Peugeot driver Kosti Katajamäki was 4.7 seconds.
On SS 3 the gap between these two suddenly grew (the other way)
when Sohlberg suddenly lost 25 seconds to Katajamäki, who set the
fastest time on that stage.
- We suffered from the dust left behind by Jouni Ampuja and we even caught the guy due to his technical problems. When we were trying to overtake him, Ampuja accidentally moved in front of me and our cars touched. There was some damage to the front of the car, which hampered my driving towards the end of the stage, said the disappointed Sohlberg.
Jouni Ampuja had a new car, a rented Focus WRC 03, but its
journey ended on SS 3, due to problems with the electrical gas
- At times it worked well, but a couple of times the going just stopped. We had to retire, which was a great disappointment since the expectations were high in our home rally, Ampuja explained.
The top two drivers held their positions during the last four
stages, and so Kosti Katajamäki took home the victory in Kouvola.
- It was a tough competition and we can be happy after achieving the win that we were after. After recce I was confident that the roads would suit me and our equipment. Some stages were really dusty and we had to take those parts very carefully, said Katajamäki.
- The summer season has gone well for us - we scored full Championship points in the last rally as well. The situation in the overall standings is very close, so we are in for a very exciting end for this season, continues Katajamäki who now lies second in the Championship points.
Sohlberg who suffered from drive line problems took things a bit easier on the last stage and in the end lost 43,3 seconds to Katajamäki. Juuso Pykälistö kept his lead in the overall standings. He fought back despite of the difficulties on the opening stage to finish third, 1.04 minutes behind the winner.
Hänninen surprised in Group N over 2000cc
In this group the top drivers started the rally with amazing pace. On the opening stage the reigning Champion Juha Salo finished fourth overall with a Mitsubishi, and Subaru driver Jari Ketomaa was only 1 second behind Salo.
The pair fought hard all the way to SS 6, where both ran into
some trouble. For Juha Salo, they led to the top mans retirement.
Just before that Salo had managed to stretch his lead into 12.5
- A huge jump broke something in the steering and the steering wheel nearly dropped onto my lap. I drove slowly to the end of the stage where I was forced to retire, Salo summed up.
Thus the victory of Group N over 2000 cc was offered to Ketomaa,
but a slight error of judgement in braking led to some extra
- I took a risk and braked late on purpose, so I went a bit wide on a downhill turning. I lost about 10 seconds reversing. It was my own mistake, which this time cost me the win, said the disappointed Ketomaa.
For the surprise of many, the winner in this group was Juho Hänninen. An error-free drive resulted in the reigning Group N up to 2000 cc Champions his first victory in the bigger group.
Hänninen eventually beat Ketomaa by 3.9 seconds.
- The win came as a small surprise for myself as well. We drove a good rally and in the end we were pushing flat out. We even had a bit of luck on SS 6, when the top two runners dropped out from in front of us. I only have hard feelings about the opening stage where I suffered from the dust raised by the guy in front of me.
Third in Group N over 2000 cc was Marko Kakko, who was happy to finish in the top three, but wanted some more stability and speed into his own driving. Kakko lost 47.4 seconds to Hänninen.
Marko Nieminen victorious in Group N upto 2000cc
The day was not good for the top drivers in this group. Kalle Pinomäki, who is leading the Championship, retired already on the first stage due to problems after a hard jump.
Marko Mänty, Joonas Londroos and Ville Hautamäki, competing for the victory in Group N up to 2000 cc, became all victims of the difficult route and drove off the road.
Marko Nieminen, who was running fourth in the beginning, became
the winner. The Honda driver however gave credit to the speed of
the drivers ahead of him the opening stages.
- The guys were driving really fast and that can lead to mistakes. I tried my best as well, but the gap just grew ever so slightly. Apparently the front-runners were taking even bigger risks. We had a good run and were rewarded at the finish by the lead in the overall standings, said the pleased winner.
Jani Hirvonen, who finished second also avoided mistakes, although he too had his moments along the way. Hirvonen lost to Nieminen with a clear margin of 1.54 minutes. There was a battle for the second place however: Jani Kola became third, only 1.5 seconds behind Hirvonen.
Next round of the Finnish Rally Championship takes place in Uusikaupunki on 10 September.